By Christina Rivers

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a team in transition, of promise, of inconsistency and one riddled with injuries in 2015. On Sunday, they host the Oakland Raiders once again calling on a mix of players from their depth chart to step up to the challenge of helping them succeed. DeAngelo Williams will be the Steelers’ starting running back after the loss of Le’Veon Bell for the season and recently signed Jacoby Jones will try to give the special teams squad a jump start in the return game. At 4-4, the Steelers look to move forward in the second half of the season.

“We are the type of team that (doesn’t) panic,” said defensive tackle Steve McLendon this week. “Backups prepare as if they are starters. We don’t think about the injuries, we just go out and play football.” With 15 players on the injured-reserved list and a few banged up guys on the active roster, the Steelers are beat up, but determined not to be beaten down. The loss of Bell was a big blow to the offense, but on Thursday offensive coordinator Todd Haley said, “Every week you have to be at your best…we can’t make ourselves easy to beat.”

Steelers offense changing gears

In addition to Williams, the Steelers signed Isaiah Pead to the roster this week as an additional running back. With Dri Archer being released to make room for Jacoby Jones on special teams, that moves unproven Jordan Todman up the depth chart as Williams’ backup. On Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin expressed that Pead is unlikely to get much time on the field until he is able to learn the offense. Pittsburgh also has fullbacks Will Johnson and Roosevelt Nix to throw in the mix as blockers as needed.

Tight end Matt Spaeth suffered his second injury this season. After suffering a knee injury and a past hand/wrist issue, Spaeth will not play against the Raiders. Heath Miller will likely be joined by rookie Jesse James this week.

Receivers Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton both spent time away from practice early this week. Bryant was recovering from an illness and Wheaton was slowly working a sore ankle. Both receivers are expected to start on Sunday. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates would be the likely third and fourth receivers unless Wheaton is unable to go. The option to insert (Jacoby) Jones is there as well.

Defense mixing personnel

The defensive backfield was hit hard by injury in the Week 8 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. Safety Will Allen (ankle) was able to get back to practice and Mike Mitchell, who was diagnosed with a concussion, has passed testing. Robert Golden and Ross Cockrell have done a nice job stepping in as needed. The Steelers moved Doran Grant onto the 53-man roster to assist at cornerback despite William Gay being probable for Sunday’s game. To make room for Grant, the Steelers released Tyler Murphy (WR/QB). Defensive coordinator Keith Butler told the media that there is a possibility Grant could be used as a safety as well but the team will ease him into the system.

Only linebacker Terence Garvin (knee) will be held completely out on defense this week. Sean Spence and Ryan Shazier are likely to share snaps without Garvin in the lineup.

Fantasy Outlook

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger coming off of a disappointing return last week, he may be a guy you want to sit if you have a healthier option. Roethlisberger’s three interceptions against Cincinnati busted many fantasy rosters. Williams is a must-start. Antonio Brown is healthy, but has yet to make a real statement. This may be the week Brown comes alive with both Wheaton and Bryant on the injury report. This will be a tough week for the Steelers defense, but they’ve had tough games every week this season. They are considered a last-minute start against Derek Carr and the Raiders offense.

Injury Recap

Out
Terence Garvin (LB, knee)
Matt Spaeth (TE, knee)

Probable
Will Allen (S, ankle)
Martavis Bryant (WR, illness)
William Gay (CB, not injury related)
James Harrison (LB, not injury related)
Heath Miller (TE, not injury related)
Mike Mitchell (S, concussion)
Mike Vick (QB, hamstring)
Markus Wheaton (WR, ankle)

Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a journalist and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied Exercise Physiology and Sports Psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL as well as a published author. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.